A productive day, disrupted only by lengthy red flag periods for damage to the trackside kerbs in both sessions, saw the #8 TS050 HYBRID of drivers’ World Championship front-runners Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Fernando Alonso record the quickest time of the day, 1min 23.973secs.
Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López, in the #7 TS050 HYBRID, set the second quickest time, 1.095secs behind, on the first day of track action for round four of the 2018-19 WEC season.
For many, the event began last weekend with a personal challenge when around 20 team members climbed Mount Fuji, successfully reaching the 3,776m summit on Sunday morning.
Back at a lower altitude of 540m, preparations at Fuji Speedway intensified on Friday with two practice sessions. This was the first time for the team to evaluate the Le Mans-winning TS050 HYBRID with its additional 26kg of weight.
That weight penalty was imposed in an attempt to balance the performance of the dominant TS050 HYBRID against its non-hybrid LMP1 rivals and has the consequence of slowing lap times as well as increasing the load on car components and tyres.
Morning rain made for a damp track at the start of the session before a 33-minute red flag for kerb damage. A half-hour extension to the session ensured minimum disruption to the team’s plan for set-up and tyre evaluations.
Second practice was dry throughout but followed a similar pattern, with a 40-minute red flag period prompting a 10-minute extension of the session, with the two TS050 HYBRIDs running through various mechanical, aerodynamic and hybrid settings.
When second practice finished at 5.10pm local time, the two TS050 HYBRIDs had completed a total of 146 trouble-free laps and ended the day with a best lap 1.724secs clear of the nearest challenger, having taken advantage of qualifying-specific boost settings to prepare for Saturday’s qualifying.
The team will now analyse the various data from the 666km of running on Friday to fine-tune the cars for the rest of the weekend.
Mike Conway (TS050 HYBRID #7): “The day went well; we went through our programme and tried out various changes. It’s always tricky here to find the right set-up because the first two sectors are quite fast but the final sector is tight and twisty so it’s hard to get the balance right all the way around. It’s always the challenge here so we will keep plugging away to get it right for qualifying and the race.”
Kamui Kobayashi (TS050 HYBRID #7): “We had some red flags in both sessions so we didn’t have the full track time, which can happen sometimes. We were working hard to find a good balance of the car and we still have some work to do. We tried to do our best to find a good solution so we have a lot of data and now we will improve the car and push hard tomorrow.”
José María López (TS050 HYBRID #7): “I would have preferred to run a little more especially in the dry because I didn’t experience this track in dry conditions last year. Overall it went pretty well and my fast lap was good despite some traffic. We are not 100% happy with the balance so we need to keep working. At the moment we are a little bit back from our sister car but we will work to close that gap.”
Sébastien Buemi (TS050 HYBRID #8): “It is always good to be back in the car after such a long time and it was a clean day from our side. We did quite a few laps and I’m happy with what I’ve seen; I hope we can build on this. It will be a close fight with car 7 so I am looking forward to qualifying and the race. Hopefully we will have some more dry running; that would be very good. ”
Kazuki Nakajima (TS050 HYBRID #8): “I am happy to come back to Fuji again and this year it is particularly special after our Le Mans win. Everything went quite smoothly apart from the red flags so I am happy. Even though we had a shortened session, our car felt quite strong. We were working on different things and generally we had a good feeling with the car which is a positive sign for the race.”
Fernando Alonso (TS050 HYBRID #8): “It went fine today. Obviously with the yellow and red flags we are a bit down on the number of laps we had wanted, especially for my first time in WEC at Fuji. It has been a positive day in terms of car balance. We did some small fine-tuning but the baseline was very good so I’m happy with the car and how things are going. So let’s hope for another trouble-free day tomorrow. ”